Most people remember Upton Sinclair, the crusading twentieth century writer, as the author of the novel, The Jungle, which exposed conditions in the food packing industry in Chicago. If you haven’t read it, it’s enough to make a butcher become a vegan for a week.
But what almost nobody remembers today is that Sinclair also once won the Democratic nomination for governor of California. His slogan was End Poverty in California, and he ran on an essentially socialist platform. He started out far ahead in the polls. But business and corporate interests went to work, and spent lavishly to defeat him. They ran a vast number of false and misleading commercials on the radio and with the newsreels in movie theaters.
When it was all over, Sinclair had been defeated by a landslide. Afterwards, he said the experience taught him this: “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
That was nearly eighty years ago, and Upton Sinclair has been dead for a long time. But I think he would understand very well why the Michigan legislature won’t approve the proposed new bridge across the Detroit River. A new report now makes it clearer than ever that Matty Moroun, the billionaire who owns the rival Ambassador Bridge, has been engaging in what amounts to legalized bribery.
Just-released state records show that last year, which wasn’t even an election year, Moroun poured hundreds of thousands into campaign coffers. None of this money went to Governor Rick Snyder, who believes Michigan’s economic future depends on a new bridge across the Detroit River. But Moroun, his wife and son gave a hundred thousand dollars to the Michigan Republican Party.
They gave another twenty thousand to help real estate developer Bobby Schostak’s drive to be appointed head of the state GOP. And you know what? The Michigan Republican Party hasn’t endorsed their own governor’s plan for a new bridge. Every major business interest has endorsed a new bridge, as has the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
But the Michigan GOP hasn’t. Is there any real wonder why? The Morouns also gave nearly a quarter million dollars that we know about to state legislative campaigns. The real figure is almost certainly more. A number of lawmakers are late filing their annual campaign financing reports.
Additionally, the Morouns are believed to have given lavishly to political action committees that opposed the new bridge, but those reports won’t be released before April. We do know the Moroun family gave another three hundred and sixty-eight thousand to federal campaign committees. We know they spent an estimated five to six million on public TV ads that independent analysts concluded were partly misleading and partly outright lies.
And that’s last year alone.
They are undoubtedly continuing to give money now, but as Michigan law stands, we won’t know to whom and how much till next year. While the Supreme Court has said it is illegal to put restrictions on corporate giving, we could require much more transparency so we could know who gave what pretty quickly.
But our lawmakers aren’t eager to be so exposed. One man and his family are trying to buy our government to further their own financial interest. And so far they are succeeding.